By Chris Croll
All over the country, COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and we are hearing that the virus is now attacking young healthy people, including children. The COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective at reducing the severity of illness from the virus, but, according to the Virginia Department of Health, more than 35% of children in Loudoun County who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have not yet been vaccinated.
I asked Dr. Jill McCabe, Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency at Inova Loudoun Hospital, to talk about what is happening with pediatric COVID-19 cases in our local hospitals.
Are you seeing an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases here in Loudoun? Yes, over the past month we have seen an increase in numbers of serious COVID-19 cases in children, most of whom have not been vaccinated. The numbers we are seeing here in Loudoun reflect what the Virginia Department of Health is reporting state-wide, which is that unvaccinated people are more likely to contract, get sick from and die of COVID-19 than people who have been vaccinated.
Have any children died from complications related to COVID-19? Since the beginning of the pandemic about 130 children have been admitted to Inova hospitals with COVID-19. Of those admitted, more than a third required intensive care. Sadly, three children (at the time of this interview) have died from COVID-19 here in Northern Virginia. We worry that number will increase as the Delta variant continues to spread. This is why it is so important for adults and eligible children to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Are you seeing any children in the ER who are sick from the COVID-19 vaccine? We have seen a handful of older teens and young adults with mild myocarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. All of them recovered quickly and cardiologists say that this rare side effect causes much less harm to the heart than a COVID-19 infection.
Have you heard anything concrete about when the vaccine may be available for children ages newborn-11 years? The FDA requested that Moderna and Pfizer study the vaccines in a larger number of children and observe trial participants for a longer period than was done for adults. Current estimates are that the vaccine will be available for younger children in early 2022. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics asked the FDA to release the vaccine for younger kids because young children are getting infected with the Delta variant and are transmitting COVID-19 more than they have been in the past.
When do you expect the COVID-19 vaccines to be fully approved by the FDA? The vaccines are approved under emergency use authorization and are continuously being monitored for side effects. We expect full authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in mid-September.
What would you say to a parent who is hesitant to get their child ages 12-18 vaccinated? The risk of serious illness or even death from COVID-19 in healthy teens is real. I have seen it first-hand. Please get yourself and your eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible. With school starting next week, we could see even more cases of serious illness and death in our community. Adults and teens getting vaccinated can help stop the spread to younger kids who are not yet old enough to be protected with a vaccine.
Is there anything else that you think is important for people to know about COVID-19 in children? A subset of children and adults who contract COVID-19 are experiencing prolonged symptoms, even in cases when the initial infection was mild. These “long haul” symptoms include difficulty thinking and learning. As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children’s brains by having them wear seatbelts, use helmets, and avoid concussions … we need to also protect our kids’ brains by making sure they do not contract COVID-19.
Pregnant women should know that COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy. In fact, the COVID-19 virus can make pregnant women extremely sick and can result in preterm labor, preeclampsia, and other serious conditions.
I also want to let people know that my team at Inova is working hard every day to fight this pandemic and to keep our patients at the hospital and in the community safe. I want to thank everyone in Loudoun for getting vaccinated, wearing masks, washing hands, and following other mitigation strategies.
Chris Croll is a writer, empathy activist and communications consultant. She is a member of the board of directors for the Ryan Bartel Foundation and she is a 2021 Loudoun100 honoree.